Popular religiosity is a phenomenon of every culture. Popular religiosity is the personal, informal expressions of religious belief that flourish outside the structures of formal belief. And these have played an important role in American religious history, according to Charles H. Lippy in Being Religious, American Style: A History of Popular Religiosity in the United States.
From the Puritans in New England to African American slaves in the south to contemporary charismatic movements and “New Spirituality” expressions, individuals have sought an immediate, personal encounter with the supernatural, apart from religious structures. For Lippy, this accounts both for the vitality and the privatization of belief among Americans.
I would agree and suggest that for churches and other religious bodies to thrive, they need to foster this connection with the supernatural. Sadly, the trend in many theological circles is toward the de-supernaturalization of the church, a bifurcation between sacred and secular. What seems necessary is for churches to recover the sense of the presence of the Living God. What churches also offer are formative communities that can channel and discipline personal expressions of spirituality, and through the lived experience of their own communal life in the world, can equip their members for a more constructive engagement of the wider public world. The predominance of personal, idiosyncratic expression coupled with weak communal life and a weak theology of the Sovereignty of God in all of life leaves people ill-equipped for public engagement. Their only resources are experience and moralism — thin fare for engaging the public world.
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- Charles H. Lippy is the LeRoy A. Martin Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. A past president of the American Society of Church History. ↩